Reverent Fathers and Mothers, Brothers and Sisters all, you have heard the eloquent and erudite tributes that have been paid to Mrs. Darlington providing rich details of her life and anecdotes of her many and varied relations. I will only repeat those details that are absolutely necessary to put our beloved colleague and sister in Christ in the context of her time and space. Please note that I do not know who would be giving the Tributes or what they will say. Any overlap, therefore, is not a result of my hearing what is said, since this eulogy is written, but is due to Norma Darlington and the consistencies of her life.
All of us live in time and space. We all came and saw. We will go and leave. The critical question is what did we do in our time? In this eulogy, I will attempt to place our sister in her time.
Mrs. Norma Hope Darlington, nee Ellis, Commander of the Order of Distinction, Christian of Methodist persuasion and longstanding member of the Coke and Saxthorpe churches, Miconian, woman of prayer, loyal and faithful wife, devoted mother and grandmother, consummate teacher, and great administrator was a nation builder through the institutions she served. A daughter of the West, from which so many consequential Jamaicans have originated, Norma Darlington came to maturity at the official birth of the Jamaican nation.
As has been true of all eras of Jamaican history, there was division and disagreement leading up to its birth as a nation-state. Divisions and disagreements centred on whether to be a state within a West Indian Federation or as a nation on its own. The Referendum of 1961 decided the matter. Jamaica would be a nation-state on its own. There was optimism and pessimism; euphoria and doubt; nationalist hope that a new day was dawning and disappear brought about by departure from the Federation as well as from being a colony. Crowds went to salute the new flag with joy and to sing the new National Anthem with verve, while others remained at home to moan the lowering of the Union Jack and say farewell to God Save the Queen. Faced with these divergent postures, Norma Darlington choose the path of optimism, opportunity, and obligation to the Jamaican nation.
In placing Norma Hope Darlington in the context of her times we must immediately make reference to her Christian faith and Methodist persuasion. For Norma Darlington was a Methodist Christian. By that, I mean that she was not about flamboyantly naming and claiming Christianity but about consistently living the Christian life in words and deeds of practical holiness and wholeness.
Methodist missionaries were not the first to arrive in Jamaica but were the first to confront the power structure of the colony with respect to the source of its wealth, slavery, and also the licentious lifestyle of powerful of those times. For this Methodists were severely persecuted in the first three decades of the 19th century but thrived because of that persecution. Indeed, the celebrations in 1839 of 50 years of Methodist witness in Jamaica was triumphal. However, the centennial celebrations in 1889, 100 years after Dr. Thomas Coke arrived in Jamaica, Methodism was in the doldrums. There was division in the denomination; disagreements between missionaries and local ministers. The decision of the Missionary Society in England was that local Methodists should take the reins and responsibility for the denomination in Jamaica and the Caribbean after 100 years of tutelage. This transition took between fifty to sixty years.
What this meant is that the march of Jamaica to independence in 1962 coincided with a renewal of the Methodist Church in Jamaica under Jamaican and Caribbean leadership. I can only speak of this from the perspective of education and personal recollections. In education, the signs of this renewal were the Methodist takeover of Excelsior High School in 1950, the re-opening of York Castle High School in 1957, the Founding of Morant Bay High School in 1961 and the founding of Operation Friendship by Father Hugh Sherlock in 1961. Then again there was the appointment in 1963 of Sir Phillip Sherlock as Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. Led by the two Sherlock brothers along with such stalwarts as Rev Evans Bailey, Rev Claude Cadogan, Mr. Mortimer Geddes and Rev Dr. Hyacinth Boothe, the Methodist denomination was on the move in Jamaica, particularly in the field of education.
These are the circumstances in which Norma Darlington embarked upon her career as a teacher and in education in the early 1960s. I am no historian but would like to suggest that the dynamism in the Methodist firmament leading up to Jamaica’s independence spawned a number of national stars from within the Methodist Church. Just on the basis of my personal knowledge allow me to name, in addition to Norma Darlington, a few other Methodist stars from this era that have burned brightly on the path of nation-building in different spheres: Rev Dr. Artnell Henry; Rev Dr. Garnett Brown; Miss Etta Whiteman; Ambassador Burchell Whiteman; Rev Dr. Webster Edwards and the Honourable Dorothy Pine-McLarty. I hope that others that I have not named will forgive my limited knowledge of the Methodist Connexion and all its sons and daughters who have served with great distinction in different spheres.
To put Norma Darlington in the national and denominational contexts is not to suggest that she was only a product of these developments. To do so would be to ignore her unique personality, humanity, and spirituality. Rather, it is to say that these were two major formative forces which interacted with her unique individuality.
Norma held in her person a special set of traits and attributes that not only defined her but set her apart. Constrained by the limitations of language and time allow me to identify at least ten attributes that at defined our colleague and friend named Norma Hope Darlington:
- Progressive in thinking but conservative in values
- Bold and visionary in conceptualization but careful and meticulous in implementation
- Consultative and inclusive of others in taking action but single-minded in the objectives to be achieved
- Calm and caring in her demeanor but explosive and effective in getting things done
- Clever in finding ways to solve problems but not a schemer or manipulator
- Dignified in her dealings but no pushover by persons disposed to ignorance
- Indomitable in spirit in the face of daunting adversity but never an exponent of excuses
- Placid eyes but piercing stare that probed the soul of others for sincerity and trust and prompted correction from those who behavior was departing from the norm.
- Committed to life and living even when confronted with the imminent prospect of death
- Stylish and fashionable in dress but always within the boundaries of modesty and good taste
These attributes were evident throughout her professional care whether as a teacher for six years shared between Montego Bay High School for Girls, her alma mater, and Dinthill Technical High School, or as a teacher and Vice Principal at St Andrew’s High School of Girls for 22 years or as Principal of Shortwood Teachers College for thirteen years. They were also evident in the public and church spheres as she served on numerous boards and committees and in different capacities. Mindful of time allow me to illustrate some of these attributes as Norma the Mico woman served as Principal of Shortwood and at her beloved Saxthorpe.
When Norma Darlington arrived at Shortwood in 1989 the teacher education sector had gone through a great transformation over the previous 25 years by way of expansion and diversification from the middle of the 1960s and through the 1970s and upgrading from the Certificate to the Diploma level during the 1980s. Norma succeeded the great Marjorie Myers who had not only presided over the systemic changes at Shortwood but was, at the time of her retirement, the leader and doyen of Teacher Education in Jamaica. Undaunted by the legacy of her widely acknowledged predecessor, Norma immediately embarked upon taking Shortwood to yet another level.
Noting that the College of the Bahamas and Mico were engaged in offering University of the West Indies Bachelor of Education degrees in Primary, Secondary and Special Education respectively, Norma seized the opportunity provided by the fact that the Van Leer Foundation was ending its pioneering partnership with the UWI in the field of Early Childhood Education. She led the move which established Shortwood as the College offering the UWI B. Ed in Early Childhood Education, thus lifting the institution to the degree level. In a nutshell, Norma Darlington ensured that Shortwood would also be on the frontier of lifting the academic and professional level of teachers and of teacher education in Jamaica and the Caribbean as the twentieth century came to a close.
Shortwood was established by the Government in 1885 as a college to train women teachers. For 104 years before Norma arrived at Shortwood, it had been a women’s college. Norma made Shortwood co-educational. Her brave and bold action was undergirded with a logic that was both impeccable and disarming. The Ministry of Education in conjunction with the Joint Board of Teacher Education had assigned Shortwood to be the College specializing in preparing secondary schools teachers of Foreign Languages, namely Spanish and French. Indeed, Shortwood was the only college offering French. Norma’s logic was simple. Shortwood as a women’s college would deny men the opportunity to be trained as teachers of Foreign Languages. The college had to open its door to men. Case closed.
For more than a hundred years Shortwood had operated without an event that marked its founding. This was a great oversight. Up to the 19th century, across the world and in the Caribbean, men were the teachers. It was in the latter half of the 19th century that across the world there was the movement to educate and train women as teachers. Shortwood’s founding in 1885 was part of this worldwide movement. No authentic history of the advancement of women in Jamaica can be written without recognizing and acknowledging Shortwood’s role and contribution in the process. Norma Darlington, the outsider, then at the helm of this great institution established the Founder’s Week and the Founder’s Day Lecture which, latterly and appropriately, has been made by the College in her honour. As a people, we are woefully lacking in knowing and understanding of our history, and therefore in knowing and understanding ourselves as a people. Norma Darlington had a profound appreciation of this lack and sought to correct it in the institution for which she had responsibility.
Having retired from teaching and while fighting the fatal disease that finally took her life but still serving in the church, Norma Darlington engineered and organized a group of Methodists who are lawyers to establish the Legal Aid Clinic at Saxthorpe which now serves the Western St Andrew Circuit of Methodist churches. It takes very special qualities for a female teacher to mobilise members of the learned profession to offer voluntary legal services. It is a notorious fact that it is difficult to organise lawyers to work collectively. As a layman, I am unable to explain this difficulty but through experience, I have learned that there are different mentalities within the learned profession. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, corporate lawyers, and judges all seem to approach the law with different thinking processes. But Norma Darlington employed the glue of common Christian purpose that founded the Legal Aid Clinic at this church, which has continued without her immediate supervision and hopefully will continue even with her passing.
Anyone who knew Norma knew that she was a woman of deep spirituality and great faith in God. Anyone who knew Norma knew David Darlington and the unswerving support and stability he contributed to her life. You invariably came away with the impression that Norma was absolutely persuaded that through faith in God, and with support from her David, there was no Goliath that she needed to fear. Her abounding optimism and persistent positive approach to life was infectious and inspiring.
In paying our final respect to Norma Hope Darlington it would be remiss of us not to thank and recognise Mr. David Darlington. At a time when so many negative things are said about Jamaican men and their deficiencies with respect to family, here is a Jamaican man devoted to family and exemplary in fulfillment of his vow ‘till death do us part’. From all of us, thank you, Mr. David Darlington.
Teaching is not a heroic and specular profession. It is not engaged in healing the sick and caring for the dying; or in constructing edifices that stand as monuments to be admired by generations; or in mesmerizing advocacy that save persons from prison or in giving learned opinions that settle difficult questions; or in apprehending dangerous criminals; or in fighting wars; or in putting out flames that engulf properties and threaten people’s lives. Teaching is about daily routines and repetitions that shape outlook, build competencies, foster character, inspire hope and mobilize individuals not only to develop their potentials but also to serve the common good of community. Teaching is unspectacular in its execution but profound in its purpose and impact. Norma Hope Darlington was an exemplary teacher whose professional practice was the working out of her faith in God in Christ and her accepted obligation to serve others.
May her soul rest in peace as she hears the words of the Master, well done good and faithful servant.
July 23, 2015